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What lifestyle changes can help treat heartburn or GERD?

Kevin A. Ghassemi, MD
Gastroenterology
If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), making diet and lifestyle changes might be helpful. Consider avoiding foods and drinks that trigger acid production, such as:
  • citrus fruits and juices
  • tomato-based sauces
  • spicy foods
  • alcohol
  • fatty foods
  • caffeinated drinks
Other changes you can try:
  • Eat smaller meals throughout the day, not eat within three hours of bedtime.
  • Raise your head at night using a wedge pillow or with lifts placed under the head of your bed.
  • Lose 5-10% of your body weight. If you are overweight, this can dramatically improve GERD symptoms.
This content originally appeared online at UCLA Health.
To treat heartburn, you need to implement lifestyle changes first.
  • Give the fridge a bedtime. Do not eat for at least two hours before lying down -- preferably longer. This makes sense, because being upright makes gravity work for you.
  • Skip the spice. Eliminate as many spicy and/or acidic foods as you can. Peppermint and chocolate are also big no-no’s when it comes to reflux.
  • Prop yourself up. Try sleeping on an extra pillow . . .  back to the whole gravity thing again.
  • Get milk. Consuming a small amount of dairy may help with reflux symptoms when they occur, as it acts as a natural buffer; however, too much can actually stimulate your stomach to produce more acid.
  • Skip the nightcap. Alcohol can also worsen reflux, so make sure any consumption is a long time before lying down!
There are many easy ways to reduce the pain from heartburn and its more serious health complications with simple modifications to your diet. Foods that are acidic, spicy or fried are usual suspects in causing reflux symptoms. However, everyone's body is different and has different reactions to food. Keeping a food diary and writing down what you eat and what foods cause heartburn is a simple way to eliminate reflux trigger foods. Another simple change is to eat frequent smaller meals and avoid eating before bedtime.

GERD is an abbreviation for gastroesophageal reflux disease, a condition that refers to damage to the lining of the lower esophagus as a result of frequent or prolonged exposure to stomach acid. It is usually treated with a combination of lifestyle changes and medications.

In terms of lifestyle changes, your doctor may recommend that you:

  • Avoid all tobacco products.
  • Eliminate or cut down on caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, peppermint, fried and fatty foods and anything else that you find causes your heartburn.
  • Eat smaller meals throughout the day rather than three large meals
  • Don’t bend or stoop after you eat, to avoid pressure that can push acid into the esophagus.
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothes to avoid pressure on your stomach.
  • Exercise and lose weight, if appropriate. (Be aware that sit-ups and leg lifts can make acid reflux worse.)
  • Raise the head of your bed or mattress six to eight inches to help keep acid in the stomach. This works better than simply wedging pillows under your head, which causes you to bend at the waist, pushing fluid back up into the esophagus.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.